Sari ? No,Sorry!

My recent absence from the blogosphere coincided with a couple of lip-smacking discussions on IHM’s blog. One regarded the definition of ‘vulgar’ while the other was about why the sari has been steadily losing favour with young women in India–both topics I love to debate and pontificate on. Posting a comment at this late stage would have been kind of futile, so I decided to do a full-fledged post on each. For what they’re worth, I’ll begin with my views on the sari.

I think it cannot be said enough that the modern six yard sari is a very flattering garment. Women of all shapes and sizes look pretty in one. It can be worn to accentuate a good figure or to hide those extra pounds in its many layers. It lets you reveal about as much of your figure as you want. Wear it low on your hips to show off your washboard abs and ,well, not so low if you don’t want those stretch-marks seen. A properly draped sari makes you appear fuller in the right places if you are skinny and less fat if you are, err, kind of plump. It is this versatility which makes the sari such a popular choice at weddings and social events.

And then there is this amazing variety in terms of fabrics, weaves, designs and colours. Just about every nook and corner of the country boasts of its own distinctive type of sari. From the Chanderi of Madhya Pradesh to the Balucheri, Tangail and Dhakai of West Bengal, the Bhagalpuri silk of Bihar to the Ikat and Sambalpuri prints of Orissa, the gorgeous Coimbatore cottons to the Pochampallis of Andhra Pradesh, to say nothing of the Kanjeevarams and the Benarasis which have the pride of place in many an Indian woman’s wardrobe, sometimes as prized heirlooms.

Contrary to the popular fallacy, the sari is by no means fit only for occasions when you want to dress up. It is a great option for ‘powerdressing’ women–bureaucrats, professors, lawyers and politicians. (Sonia gandhi is often called the Imelda Marcos of handloom saris, owing to her fabulous collection of the same.) A crisp, well-starched cotton sari in neutral shades ,with little or no accessories, was until recently the attire of choice for most women in positions of  authority. The salwar-kurta never quite made the mark as a formal dress although it is undoubtedly more comfortable–it comes across as too casual, even dowdy and inelegant. Female politicians of Pakistan(Benazir Bhutto and more recently Hina Rabbani Khan) have had to wear a short fitted coat over their salwar-kurtas to make them look more business-like and formal . A sari, however, is perfectly formal and elegant on its own.

The reason why the sari is increasingly seen to be chucked in favour of the salwar-kurta or western wear has basically to do with convenience. Draping the sari requires time and patience–both are in short supply in today’s hectic world. Cotton saris might look great but are a real pain to maintain and are difficult to drape for the unaccustomed wearer. Georgettes and chiffons are easier to wear and maintain but are known to be a fire hazard, what with the flowing pallu. And silk saris, of course, are too delicate to be worn very often and require expensive maintenance.

Then there is the aspect of comfort. The form-fitting blouses that are worn with the sari can be difficult to get into and even more difficult to get out of.The petticoat over which a sari is draped usually has drawstrings–I don’t understand why they don’t make petticoats with elastic waistbands–and they have to be tied real tight, or else you’ll be worried the whole time about your sari coming undone. Your sari is expected to cover  your ankles, and that might make you trip if you don’t watch your step. To make matters worse, it is almost de riguer to wear high heels with your sari which places further restrictions on your movements.

The sari also suffers from an image problem. It has willy nilly come to be associated with oppressive in-laws who force their hapless daughter-in-law to wear only the sari. (I feel it is this growing perception which has done the most damage to the sari’s cause–it is what has made young women take pride in having dumped the sari as an act of rebellion against the culture of women being forced to present themselves/ behave a certain way.)

The sari is widely perceived as associated with women of a certain generation(the aunties) and/or a certain socio-economic background(poor, uneducated, oppressed). Small wonder, then, that young women today eye the sari with disdain and don’t want to be caught dead in one. Western clothes, on the other hand, are associated with just the opposite–youth, education, financial security and confidence–part of the reason why their popularity has been steadily growing even in the rural areas.

I personally simply love the sari, but draping one properly takes me half an hour, which is why I don’t wear one except on special occasions, maybe twice or thrice a year . I’ve always felt that a ready-to-slip-on sari, with all the folds and pleats sewn in, might turn out to be more popular. It will save the wearer a lot of time and effort–I for one would definitely give it a try if and when it hits the markets!

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6 Responses to Sari ? No,Sorry!

  1. That was a great write up.
    I enjoyed reading it and I agree with all your views.

    My wife was the saree wearing type for the first twenty five years of my marriage and each time I had a fight with her I would take her out “Saree shopping” to mollify her.

    There was nothing she loved better than flitting from shop to shop, with me in tow, trying to decide which was the best saree to buy. She would savour every moment of this saree hunting experience. Often she would shortlist a few and ask poor confused me “which do you think suits me?”. I would do a quick mental “eenie meenie myna moe” and zero in on a particular one.
    That saree was doomed and sure to be rejected, as, we men were supposed to have no aesthetic taste in the matter of saree selection.

    She switched to the convenient salwaar kameez over 10 years ago and nowadays wears the saree only on special occasions.
    Some benefits:
    It has freed up considerable space on the family clothesline
    Earlier just a single saree of hers would take up all the available space when the clothes were put out to dry.

    She has stopped cribbing about ill-fitting blouses after she stopped wearing the saree. I keep telling her the blouses are innocent and she needs to watch her weight. That gets me a hostile stare.

    Dry cleaning bills for the costly silk sarees (she has an enviable collection) and starching and ironing bills for the cotton sarees have reduced drastically.

    Even after including the tailoring charges the cost a decent salwar kameez is less than the saree that she would pick whenever she went saree shopping.

    My maidservant, who has been with us for over 25 years is not too happy with this change in my wife’s sartorial preferences. Earlier she was the direct beneficiary of my wife’s sudden change of mind and her sudden displeasure with a particular saree, which at the time of purchase had been her favoured choice. The maidservant used to welcome the “hand me downs”.
    Since she wouldn’t be seen dead in a salwar kameez, this “perk” in her job has been lost.
    The new sarees that my wife gifts her during Diwali/Dassehra dont compensate enough for what she has lost.

    My wife is an attractive woman. When she wears a saree, she looks stunning. My cell phone camera is full of random snaps I take of her when she occasionally wears one.

    You need half an hour to change into a saree?
    I wonder why. My wife is ready in five minutes.

    Regards
    GV

    For

  2. GV,
    My mom, and also my mom-in-law, can wear a sari in five minutes too. I think its due to all those years of practice–both wear only the sari and won’t even hear of giving the salwar-kameez a try. :-).
    I think it takes me so long to drape a sari because I only wear one once in a long while–and the reason why I don’t wear one more often is that it takes me so long!! Vicious circle!

  3. Hurray!
    I am first this time with my comment.
    I am looking over my shoulder
    But I dont see CE anywhere near.
    Regards
    GV

  4. Scribby says:

    I feel it is this growing perception which has done the most damage to the sari’s cause–it is what has made young women take pride in having dumped the sari as an act of rebellion against the culture of women being forced to present themselves/ behave a certain way.

    I kind of agree to the above sentence!

    I love wearing sari and mostly cottons and silks. And the elegant look that it gives a female can’t be compared with any other outfit-Indian-Western alike!

    I agree with the replacement of drawstrings with elastics..it would be so much more convenient! I also feel that one should wear a legging inside the petticoat just in case one trips and falls or god forbid has an accident or something…you know!

    • Leggings under a petticoat? But that would make it all the more uncomfortable with one more layer of clothing added to several already existing layers. I don’t remember ever seeing any sari-wearer exposing too much of legs even accidentally.I think it would be preferable to live with the risk of exposing your legs in some freak accident once in maybe twenty years than wearing leggings under the petticoat all those years!

      • Scribby says:

        hahaah yes you are right but I always tend to feel that what if I fall down while wearing a saree…I think of wearing tights if not full length leggings 😀 that said I’ve never done that myself 😛

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